The Shoe Surgeon takes custom athletic footwear to a new level


Dominic Ciambrone, known as The Shoe Surgeon, stands in his exclusive customer experience room lined with leather sofas and walls of custom shoes, gazing at a machine that launched his empire nearly two decades ago .

On the top shelf, dominating a pair of size 17 gold leather sneakers made for Los Angeles Laker Anthony Davis, is a Brother Pacesetter PS1000-13 sewing machine.

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When Ciambrone’s classmates received money envelopes or trips to Mexico for their high school graduation gifts, Ciambrone’s grandmother gave her this sewing machine, helping her launch her career.

He’s now one of the nation’s top customization experts, known for tearing up sneakers, rebuilding them and adding special paints, studs, crystals, swooshes or leather elements to set them apart.

Ciambrone’s client list reads like a who’s who in the music and sports world. There are justin bieberWilliam, DuckMichael B. Jordan, PJ Tucker, Odell Beckham Jr. and many more.

As his work with musical celebrities and famous athletes has progressed, crystals have turned into diamonds and touches of 14k gold are not uncommon. “I love creating experiences,” said the 36-year-old creator.

Since occupying its 16,000ft outpost two years ago south of downtown Los Angeles, he has set up workshops and classes for anyone who wants to learn how to put their unique touch on a scratch. There is also a full size basketball/football court, full bar, ping pong table, lounge area and retail store.

And he hasn’t finished yet. He has just inaugurated the SRGN studios where creativity will extend to other products beyond shoes. “It’s about creating a community and something where people can join,” Ciambrone said. “There’s not much like that out there. It’s something that tries to be inclusive when we live in a world of exclusivity.

This was all done with his business partner, Dallas Remo Imbimbo, co-founder of KushCo Holdings, a cannabis packaging company, and co-founder of BigRentz for online heavy equipment rentals.

The studios become a shoe design center and a meeting place. In the evening, the local teams come to play football or basketball. For the sneakerheads, there are weekly classes and evening workshops for anyone who wants to learn how to put an artistic touch on a shoe.

“There’s no average workshop user here,” said Josh Campolattara, manager of four-day shoe customization workshops and courses. “We see everyone from 3 years old to 70 years old.”

On the business side, SRGN Studios is home to Ciambrone’s customization shoe factory with 17 workers, 10 sewing machines and various shoe deconstruction spaces. The typical cost for a pair of custom shoes is at least $7,500, and there’s a three-month wait. “Right now, we’re making a shoe for [boxer] Devin Haney fighting in a few weeks,” Ciambrone said.

The Shoe Surgeon outpost at 3855 S. Hill Street is in an industrial section filled with squat cinderblock buildings that once housed clothing manufacturers and distribution businesses.

From the outside, the building, which once housed a clothing factory, looks like a windowless fortress. To enter you walk around the side where a heavy metal gate stays closed until you push the doorbell.

Cross the parking lot to enter the building and you will find a magical oasis.

This 0.000 shoe was designed for basketball player PJ Tucker.  Photo Courtesy: The Shoe Surgeon

This 0.000 shoe was designed for basketball player PJ Tucker. Photo Courtesy: The Shoe Surgeon

The workshops and classes bring in some of the company’s revenue, but the biggest buck is the custom shoes for celebrities.

Last year, Ciambrone, with the help of the Beverly Hills jeweler Jason Arasheben, created a $250,000 shoe for Milwaukee Bucks basketball player PJ Tucker. It has 2,020 white diamonds on the Air Jordan 1 swoosh and crocodile leather. Tucker wore the shoe in the arena before Buck’s Game Six victory over the Phoenix Suns, which won them the NBA title.

For football player Odell Beckham Jr., The Shoe Surgeon, again with Arasheben, designed a $200,000 athletic shoe with 25 carats of diamond-studded cleats that the LA Rams player wore while training for warming up for last February’s Super Bowl competition. The Rams won.

One shoe at a time

Ciambrone’s path to becoming The Shoe Surgeon began in Santa Rosa, Calif., where his parents, Kim and Lou, run an Italian grocery store called Canevari’s. When Dominic was in eighth grade, his older cousin allowed him to wear his original 1985 Air Jordan 1s. “I didn’t know what to expect, but everyone gave me props,” the famed said shoemaker. “I learned that you can wear cool shoes and be accepted.”

After graduating from Elsie Allen High School in 2004, Ciambrone moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to live with relatives. There he worked and hung out in malls staring at sneakers and watching people airbrush shoes.

With airbrushing in mind, he returned to Santa Rosa and sought out repair shops where he could learn about shoes and work on his customization ideas. “The first guy insulted me saying I was going to steal his stuff. The second guy was too busy,” Ciambrone recalled. “The third guy was Daryl Fazio, who had a shoe repair shop. I told him what I wanted to do, and that’s what I want to learn.

The budding shoe customizer offered to help Fazio repair if he could use the shoe repair machine. Fazio remembers Ciambrone as a young man who walked into his store. “To tell you the truth, I fired him. I was busy and had no time to help her. But he persisted in coming in,” Fazio said.

The two worked together on and off for four or five years. “And then he had big-name clients like justin bieber“recalls Fazio. “He would be nervous with these projects for celebrities like He always had a vision on uppers, and I taught him how to put the soles on the shoes. He had a knack for making shoes.

Ciambrone’s big breakthrough came when he called Javier Laval about making shoes for the luxury Los Angeles sneaker company called Android Homme. “What I saw in him was an ambitious, visionary young creative who just needed to get the right exposure,” Laval said. “I connected him with justin bieber and and other celebrities. That’s when he got his first chance to do custom work for some A-list celebrities.”

Ciambrone remembers working on these Bieber shoes in his bedroom and his garage. Laval encouraged him to move to Los Angeles. “It was scary,” Ciambrone said of the move.

He moved to a suburb of Los Angeles to live with his cousin and had a 300 square foot office space in downtown Los Angeles. Then it moved to a 900 square foot location, later a 1,600 square foot studio, then two years ago to what is now SRGN Studios.

With each move, his reputation grew. “I know Dominic before he was famous,” said Miguel Rodriguez, head of shoe and accessory development at Shoemakers of LA. “What it’s doing is creating a new platform for people to get into shoe customization and shoemaking, especially in LA, and opening doors for different people.”

Ciambrone’s next step is to expand into other categories, such as apparel, and expand its 1,500 square foot New York location in Seaport into a much larger studio.

Later this year, he expects to have a 26,000 square foot center in Brooklyn’s trendy Dumbo neighborhood equipped with many of the same amenities found in Los Angeles. “Shoes are a way to connect with other people,” the shoe customizer said. “It creates a community.”


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